Spy Radar Satellites Declassified

Spy Radar Satellites Declassified

Classification is a double-edged sword. It may prevent your enemy from learning what you plan to do and what you are capable of doing. But it can have the same effect on your own forces, slowing their ability to design and build weapons and share needed data on the battlefield.

Worried that the long-term costs of classification outweighed the benefits, the National Reconnaissance Office, maker and operator of America’s spy satellites, declassified the existence of its super secret radar satellites, specifically those using Synthetic Aperture Radar. I heard about the declassification from a former intelligence official and called the NRO’s public affairs man, Rick Oborn, to confirm it. Oborn, regarded by many reporters as Dr. No Comment, belied his reputation and spoke on the record.

“We have declassified the fact that we have SAR systems,” Oborn said. The decision became public — sort of — on June 9 though it had actually been made several weeks before. The NRO did not publicize the decision and, as far as Oborn knew, there were no public notices.  I asked him why the decision was taken.


“The reason was a practical one. Number one, it was one of those not so secret secrets. Anyone who has paid attention to what we do at all knows we have radar satellites. Let’s just quit trying to protect this information and wasting whatever resources get spent doing that,” he said. But there was a more practical, urgent need. The Air Force and NRO could not exchange information needed to move ahead on the troubled efforts to design and build a new generation of radar satellites, known as Space Radar.

For those who don’t follow the spy satellite world too closely, Space Radar was supposed to have been a joint effort between the Pentagon and the NRO to build a satellite that could both monitor moving targets such as trucks or tanks for the military and provide the strategic intelligence needed by the intelligence community and White House. Those requirements were extremely difficult to reconcile and the program ended up being cancelled earlier this year. A plan for a new Space Radar was ordered by Congress. It has not been completed. Now back to the practical reasons for declassifying SAR.

“There are lots of discussions between ourselves and the Air Force in particular, and other combat commands and other entities [about Space Radar],” Oborn said, adding that “It just got too hard to get into a room and talk about all this stuff.” NRO officials often possessed Sensitive Compartmented Information clearances, while their Air Force colleagues did not. That meant the NRO people could not even say what system they were in the room to discuss, Oborn explained: “It became one of those decisions — we have lots of business to do here, and let’s just get rid of this impediment so people can get down to business.”

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Why unveil this?

The term “declassified” may be slightly misleading. It’s use sounds like there is no longer any classification to the system or data, yet later I in the article I get the impression that only the “SCI” has been removed.
The removal of SCI does not mean that information is now “street available.” It is still probable that the systems and information are at the secret or top secret level.
This article needs some clarification. (Although, why be too specific when the “bad guys” could be reading. Opsec, opsec, opsec!)

p.s.
Paul asked, “Why unveil this?”

The reasons given in the article are good. 1) Our use of radar sats is well known even amongst our enemies. 2) Maintaining a high degree of classification is too expensive given that it is no longer necessary. And 3) The degree of classification was hindering the advancement of the technology.

It could be a leak right?And especially notice
the word:Synthetic aperture radar!Nor is an civilian agency:“a combat unit.” And the worst
part is:“lets quit trying to protect this information etc.”

I truly could blame the above article fairly
on some:Navy IT’s.…Thats how they hacked this machine,multiple times.…And old school RM’s.
And if wrong,it would still be near them!Blocks
are a strange breed of intrance.

Why does everyone have to know everything about our military. Does Congress and the Pentagon want to self destruct. We became a SUPER Power because we did not discuss all of our SECRETS in the newspapers or on TV. We had an edge years ago, now the ENEMY (CHINA and other rogue States) are getting the edge on us. instead of learning Spanish, we had better learn Chinese or Arabic because they are going to bury us if we don’t stop this foolish.

Anyone who’s been involved in any compartmentalized program knows the difficulty, expense, and stress caused by keeping these programs strictly black. When the Soviet Union was still intact, it probably made sense for this level of security, but the cost and technical issues of large programs continue to be their greatest defense from anyone wishing us harm. By allowing technical experts to talk to each other about possible solutions without unneeded levels of security, our overall national defense is greatly enhanced. When I was in the Air Force, we knew these programs existed but never knew the the specifics. When I entered industry and entered the SCI world, it became clear why certain classified and unclassified programs needed to do what they did. At the same time, there were a number of solutions on the unclassified side that could have helped the black programs if we’d only had the “tickets”. By keeping these programs TOP SECRET they’re still protected, but the need for withholding even their existence is nonsense.

I agree with T. On’neill, everythime we turn on the tv, there is yet something else we’re blabbing about. Some things the public just doesn’t need to know. We always rush to get our latest “Top Secret” project on the news some we can impress , Who?? Like they told us when i was in, “You don’t have the need to know”

I suggest that the people complaining here go back and read the article. To answer some of the questions posted here:

1-Was this a ‘leak’? No, the article quotes a government spokesperson about a change in policy. The government was releasing the information on its own.

2-Why was the government releasing this information? Because a) they knew that the “fact of” the government operating radar satellites is already known, and b) they decided that for operational purposes, they needed to make this policy change. If you know about the Space Radar program, you know that the USAF and the NRO are being urged/forced to cooperate on a future space radar program. According to the spokesperson, it was a problem that they held meetings with the USAF and they cannot even admit that they currently operate a space radar system.

3-Is it necessary to keep _all_ details secret? No. The important information is the technical details of the satellites. That is still classified. If the job is national security, and the government says that this aspect of secrecy was getting in the way of them doing their job, then what is the problem?

Several comments represent the thoughtful process by which the “fact of” SAR reconnaissance satellites was declassified with the concurrence of the affected intelligence agencies. As one writer offered, no other details except that “fact” were declassified — no history, nor numbers, nor technology, nor operations.

There is clearly a need to enable all the services to work together and get the intel. they need to accomplish their various missions. That said, we cannot letup on our precautions. We have given the Chi coms so much information because of the stupidity of previous administrations and treasonous acts by individuals, that they are far ahead of where they should be on multiple fronts. We are funding our enemies through the guise of capitalism and it’s going to kill us.

It’s a good way to get networking started to improve and develop more uses for the system in place. Make it available to the force, and allies (limited) and there can be a huge potential to improve the effectiveness of groundbased robotic systems, UAVs, etc. all taking advantage of this system, devloping more reliance, and thus contributing to redevelopment and improvements to the system. Use or lose it, as is often said, and why not? If it works, make it work hard, for as many applications as possible, that’s rationalization and evolution, and don’t beg the question why we wouldn’t want to keep our allied forces at top effectiveness.

I still believe Military Intelligence is an “Oxymoron”! If you want the latest intelligence watch the 5 o’clock news. why is it that our country and news especially shoot their mouths off about things,that are OBVIOUSLY a demise to “OUR” security and safety in this country, without thinking twice!

With RADAR most of the secrets are out once the RADAR is in operation. The RADAR can be tracked, the frequencies can be detected, the on and off times can be logged etc.

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